Can a student lifestyle be healthy?

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We have all seen them- they totter down Market Street, their tiny limbs threatening to collapse under the combined weight of their Russian fur hats and designer coffee cups . These impossibly beautiful, perpetually well-groomed women leave the rest of us crawling in our pyjamas to our 9am lectures in the shade of their slender shadows. Even worse, at the gym they glide effortlessly over the treadmill while the rest of us sweat like a Democrat in the Mid-Term Election. However, in a town in which the students and the pubs seem to rival each other for population density, we need to ask; just how easy is it to lead a healthy lifestyle in St Andrews?

The first defence in the fight against the flab is Hall food, one of the first things Freshers will be greeted by, along with overwhelming alcohol fumes and a completely stressed out Hall Warden.  Getting students started on a healthy eating plan seems to be a top priority, especially for New Hall which has ‘Awareness Weeks’ where they try different initiatives, such as not serving fast food. However, whether this actually encourages healthy eating is hotly contested by former resident, Lucy Gallard, “My experience of student hall dining has not been particularly good. At New Hall I came to expect anything ostensibly ‘healthy’ to have roughly the same taste and texture as dried turf.”

At least for this resident, ‘healthy’ was certainly not associated with vitality, arguably setting students off on a path of bad eating habits right from the very beginning. The healthy option, in fact, seems to invite the unhealthy alternative- venturing into town for kebab that dribbles fat almost as much as you drool when you see it. These sentiments are echoed by Peter Menzel, a Fourth-Year student in Andrew Melville Hall, “Living in Melville, it is easy to eat healthily – in fact, the focus on health over flavour often gets frustrating!”

Yet again, university accommodation is criticised for not making healthy eating enticing enough for the student populace. Peter goes on to add that the “fish and chips” are what he still looks forward to the most on the menu, a tell-tale sign that students in halls are not being weaned off their addiction to fast food. Instead, it becomes more of a focus and a guilty pleasure thanks to hall food policy. Nevertheless, Peter does add that “for the many people who are more health-conscious than me, there are salads and fruit juices available at all meals.”

So, healthy eating in halls may not be the most appetising option on the menu, but it is still available if you are determined enough- or have a bovine fondness for dried turf, apparently.

It does not matter if you are still traumatised by painful high school gym memories of you jiggling across the finish line, exercise is an undeniable part of a healthy lifestyle. St Andrews own gym has seen a series of renovations in the last year, and the all inclusive £100 allows you free entry to many exercise classes. Plus, staff and students now have the opportunity to satiate their couch potato needs and  watch the television at the same time as they run. The plethora of sports societies add more variety still.

Greta Scott-Larsen joined the Women’s Shinty team in her first year because she wanted to “maintain some form of regular exercise so I didn’t just melt into a gluttonous blob in front of the telly with a poke of chips in one hand and a can of lager in the other.” She praises how they have “a lot of patience for those who are not naturally adept at it” and the fact “the Shinty girls are an incredibly close team, forever popping in and out of each other’s houses for a cup of tea or a nip of something stronger.” The Shinty team is known for working hard- but playing even harder. “I now find myself part of a group of people who party like it’s 1999,” says Greta. The next Shinty nightout includes, rather worryingly, haystacks and Wurzels-inspired outfits- one can only presume the cider will be well and truly flowing.

Even in exercise in St Andrews, there still seems to be the temptation, or outright encouragement, to indulge in excess within the sporting communities. Peter is captain of the archery squad and notes “after our Sunday morning sessions, we normally go to a pub for a full breakfast, which definitely isn’t healthy.” These treats may be a hard-earned reward, but as part of a weekly routine, they certainly still add up. It is easy to imagine television food gurus laying out the spread of the average sports team’s weekly intake of booze and fry-ups and mentally flagellating them for their sins.

Despite its small size, St Andrews still has a selection of keep-fit options outwith the Athletics Union. One of the most recent additions is ‘Pole Fitness’, a form of pole dancing focussed on toning up the women of the town. As part of a Shinty taster session, Greta gave it a spin and commented: “It was awesome if, like us, you are open minded and willing to give anything a go,” but did highlight how one ‘ardent feminist’ in the group was far from amused by the gyrating . Here we have another sports option- as long as you do not mind leaving your preconceptions at the door (along with any long jogging bottoms- they will affect how well you cling to the pole…).

Real Military Fitness is another programme new to the town, consisting of a variety of high intensity drills and the occasional Pier Jump. Regular Rob Burgess comments that within university organisations “there was too much pressure to go to all the sessions and all the socials if you wanted to get to know anybody. That’s the trouble when it’s run by students. I started doing Real Military Fitness which was more intense and more professional, with people from the wider community. It wasn’t as cheap but it was a lot more worthwhile.”

Independent clubs provide an alternative to the traditional university sporting experience of early practises and late night drinking sessions, but do blow the budget in another way- the cost of attending itself.

The town can also act as a psychological pressure cooker. Sitting next to someone who looks like the secret lovechild of Barbie and Ken can make the best of us feel insecure. Second Year Charlotte Gregory says, “everyone is ridiculously good looking here. However I like to think it is only because they can afford decent clothes, make-up and personal trainers. To be honest, all the good looking girls look so miserable as they tuck into their salads.” A brave comment, since keeping fit seems to be part of the ‘St Andrews Girl’ ideal. Just look at how many years Kate Middleton hung on to Prince William for – now that takes endurance.

Rob Burgess also thinks there is pressure for men to look good, too, “There is always gossip and as soon as something does change for the worse people start to notice. Plus, as there’s nothing really social to do in St. Andrews except go to the pubs, you’re very much expected to be seen.” It’s all very paradoxical, you are expected to be at your most lithe and beautiful at the greatest purveyor of fatty drinks and food in town.

Keeping healthy in St Andrews is all about finding the right balance, and not just in your diet. Sure, you can save money and calories by staying in halls, but it depends on whether you are willing to accept the quality of food. Your bank balance can also take a bit of a beating if you venture outside university-run clubs. The pursuit of the ‘Body Beautiful’ can have as great an impact on your mind as it does on your body, too. It all boils down to one final question: Just how much are you willing to take in order to lose weight?

Melissa Steel


    • I was more getting at that(with a bit of self restraint)in halls there are more healthy options, if you make a judicious selection about what you choose to eat (ie salad main courses, avoiding desserts). This was also informed of my own personal experience of dropping quite a lot of weight in halls through a mixture of ‘healthy’ food policy (whether this was more a ‘devoid of taste’ policy is debateable)and exercise. Hope that makes it a bit clearer!


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